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13 Jul 2010

To speak or not to speak

***Inspired by a friend's status on fb.
***Sounds like a rant but really it isn't.
***I am Yoruba hence this post might seem directed at fellow Yorubas but I think we can all relate

My two and half year old niece amazes me. She speaks English and Yoruba quite well. This is because sometimes she spends time at my parents (her grandparents) house in Ibadan and my grandma (her great grandma) who hardly speak any English stay at my parents’ as well. So you can imagine the English and Yoruba conversations that go on at my parents’. One time my grandma called her and I heard her say “Mama, mo n bo o”. Another time someone else called her and she replied “ I am coming”. That cracked me up! The girl even says some Yoruba words that I don’t know. At that age she can interpret English to Yoruba and vice versa and she knows who to speak English and Yoruba to respectively. If I say I am not amazed, I lie.

So, I was sharing my amazement with a friend and she was like “ah they have turned your niece into iya arugbo (old woman) ” referring to her speaking Yoruba. I laughed at the time but thinking about it later, I wondered, when did speaking Yoruba become razz or an old person’s thing to do. If children don’t speak it when they are young is it when they are older they will speak it?

I think many Yoruba people are guilty of this notion. The worse ones are some that live in Nigeria and refuse to speak any Yoruba to their children “Please o, I don’t want my children to be razz” (so that means you that can speak Yoruba you are razz abi?), “We only speak Queen English in our house” (Fake fake). What a sad and ignorant thing to think.

I observe Asian parents with their children on the bus or train here in the UK and all you hear them speak is their native language. And I can bet you that those children can speak English fluently. Why do we have this mentality that if our children speak Yoruba they won’t be able to speak English? You! yes you, don’t you speak both English and Yoruba and maybe another language like French effortlessly? Or what exactly is the issue as I really what to understand it. If someone can explain it to me I will appreciate that.

I have one kind of respect for people who can speak Yoruba well and English even better. It trips me. I am definitely not the best Yoruba speaking person (I can hardly pray well in Yoruba or read a book in Yoruba) but I can converse relatively well in Yoruba. My wish is for Princess to understand and speak Yoruba well enough amongst other languages. I want her to be able to hold her own wherever she is. Because of this I speak Yoruba to her as much as I can (she will be 9 months soon). Yes I am razz like that, bite me! lol

An uncle of mine who works with the American embassy told me Yoruba language is hot cake in the States and there are Americans looking for people to teach them Yoruba. What am I even saying, my sister, once had a job in her school to teach one of her American lecturers Yoruba and she was getting paid per hour ( i think), no be say dem tell me. I tell you, this language we have so belittled has serious potential. And you are there feeling cool speaking Queen English. Proud that your children don't speak Yoruba. Yeye!

Yoruba is such a rich language and if we are not careful it will go into extinction with all this nonsense posh behaviour we acquired from only God knows where. Today, Latin is considered a dead language. Even though it is still taught in schools, there are no native, fluent speakers of Latin. What a shame!

We all need to do our part if we don’t want same happening to the Yoruba Language. I beg una, keep speaking the language. Hopefully our mentality will change gradually.

I have said my own o! If I have offended any one by this note, e ni binu ni o (don't be annoyed) because na true talk I talk and you know it. :)

Olorun a ko wa mo se (somebody please translate!) Lol


  1. lol @ ur last line..
    na true you talk sha... bur all the children i meet these days know how to speak or at least understand..
    hope u're back now..

  2. but its not our fault most of the family live in warri and we hardly spoke yoruba to our was when I travelled out i started learning some yoruba on youtube (nollywood movies)...i cant wait for the day ill speak it fluently

  3. @olusimeon- good to know you are meeting children that understand happy.

    i think i am back :)

    @Sisi Yemmie- oh but am not blaming the children at all. All blame lies with the parents because it is their responsibility to speak the native language to their children. And am glad you are aspiring to speak yoruba well :) way to go!

  4. aha!
    Yoruba is still doing good.
    Almost all the people I know speak both fluently.

    As for my mother tongue "IGBO".
    It's going into extinction!!!

    I feel sad.

    I understand very well but I can't speak! I can speak to save my life but that's it!

    I give the excuse of being a child from an inter tribal marriage (which I have now done myself :-)) But I know for sure my kids will be speaking mommy and daddy's local language by hook or crook!

    So, It is not's a value that can not be bought.

    PS: The gist is on his blog....just follow the Literally hyperlik on my post

  5. Gist will be next post!

    Stay tuned!!

  6. I feel u on this...being brought up speaking both Igbo n English...I plan to raise my kids they have the added advantage of learning yoruba from their dad as well...and french and spanish and ....whatever else they decide they wanna learn.

    Welcome back dr...princess is sure keeping u busy (as she shud)

  7. I totally agree with u. To this day i regret not being taught to speak my language. Right now, my younger sister speaks pidgin to her 10month old. We figured since we dont know any other language we might as well teach her what we know. She's going to learn how to speak English anyway.

    Knowing how to speak ur language is something to be proud of. Only Nigerians would think it was razz. When i was coming to the states i had a friend tell me, i better not go to America and disgrace her by speaking pidgin English. Whatever.

  8. I totally fault parents who can speak their language and refuse to teach their children, on the grounds of razzness? Hmf! my children will certainly be learning one, if not two languages.

  9. lol Gbam!! you have talk the talk.
    I want to learn yoruba, i want to learn igbo, i want to learn creole. At the end of the day wetin i

    I feel you though. we need to embrace our language. How have you been aloted. Its been a while oh.

    Your niece is cute, sounds like my little cousin.

  10. this post is soooo true but i keep saying yorubaa have even tried..yes, they have, living and working in yorubaland i can say so, they speak their language, in the offices, churches, people are worse, far worse..

    but i believe children should learn to speak their mothertongue, it is th distinct identifier..not to mention, u can diss someone without their

  11. I speak Igbo fluently so do most Igbo people I cousins who live in Boston insult me on Igbo,they've only been to Nigeria twice but they are soooo fluent eh.they go to harvard and their parents made them take Igbo language as their language electives.yes,they teach Igbo at harvard.I personally think people who don't speak their language to their kids are very narrow minded people.

  12. offended ke?u re right on point!

    I have got a niece 2 who's almost d same age wt ur daughter. she speaks both fluently.

    what people don't realise is that kids who speak english all their lives tend to write very bad english on paper(a theory between me and my mum).

  13. Really very relevant artical with the topic it is good work.

  14. happy bday hon(i kno its belated :
    @speaking yoruba being razz... i support, u sabi say yoruba get diff types )
    *howz oga

  15. True talk!!
    I am always amazed with our Asian families preserve their culture wherever they are.

    How you doing?

  16. Too true! my parents and husband, my siblings and i are always going on about this. in fact, if i didn't know better, i'd say my mum wrote this piece for you. i went to naija in april and though my daughter was only seven months, hubby ani made sure we bought her 'Alawiye'

  17. oh, just to add a few things. 1) it's not enough for children to understand and not speak- you need to insist they speak it back to you otherwise they can't pass it on to their children. 2) for those that say they don't want their kids to be confused and yet they (the parents) as well as most other people speak both languages fluently, are they trying to say their kids are slow or what exactly? 3) The more languages you speak, the easier it is to learn others, even seemingly unrelated ones. E.g the use of the plural (you) vous in French and eyin in Yoruba to refer to more than one person or (as a mark of respect) to an elderly person.

  18. Hey Aunty, been ages since I dropped by. Mind me not. I so agree with this post. It was a timely one. I never really gave it a thought until now. Why should we try to confine our kids to a borrowed language (English) to the relegation of our local dialects? I won’t lie that I am not guilty of this because I have never said one word in Yoruba to my daughter in all her three years and I find myself frowning a little when my grandmum or mum address her once a while in my native tongue. We still have the kolo (colonial) mentality and we need to do away with it swiftly before our culture becomes extinct in the near future. Nice one, Aloted. How’s Princess? Meanwhile, the interpretation there is ‘May God teach us how to do it’ right?

  19. Na so we see am o, my sister.

    Even with my limited Yoruba (all na laziness) I hope to have enough money to send my kids home annually to learn Yoruba and Hausa sef.

    Growing up, my brother and I could speak no english. My parents moved to the US and as a result we were very quiet outside since we knew no one could understand us, so I can understand none of us wanting our kids to not blend, hence all the english.

    Both of my kids have a spanish sitter and their first words are spanish. As far as I'm concerned, its all good.

  20. there's absolutely nothing razz about speaking one's mother tongue...Yoruba inclusive...those who have that kind of mentality are simply funny (for lack of a better adjective).

    I think it's cool that your lil niece can speak both English n Yoruba already...God knows she has the capability for learning many more languages...

  21. most def! my daughter understands yoruba well...but getting her to speak it is another matter...thanks to a strictly yoruba-speaking nanny....! i wanted it that way! and I'm proud she's not like me!


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